One step ahead
Kevin Marshall extols the virtues of ANPR Speed Cameras and delves into the reasons for their increasing popularity
As technology constantly gathers pace, it continues to change the face of driving.
Take speed cameras, for example.
Now a common sight on many roads - particularly where there is a history of fatal or serious crashes, or where non-compliance with the speed limit is an identified problem - speed cameras were actually first introduced to Britain’s roads over 25 years ago. Their aim is to improve our driving habits and reduce the number of accidents on our roads caused by motorists driving at inappropriate speeds. Today, motorists caught speeding are hit fines that total millions of pounds every year. The minimum penalty for speeding is £100 (€116; US$130) and with at least three points added to a driving licence, it can be extremely costly being snared by a camera.
“Studies show that speed cameras are effective at reducing the number of accidents and road deaths. There is no doubt that speed cameras have a significant impact on driving attitudes too”
Studies show that speed cameras are effective at reducing the number of accidents and road deaths. There is no doubt that speed cameras have a significant impact on driving attitudes too, although this is also due to the retraining provided by speed awareness courses that are offered to speeding offenders. However, figures still show that over a quarter (27 per cent) of motoring convictions are still related to speeding.
In addition to speed cameras, we are also seeing more and more ANPR on our roads. These cameras are able to automatically read vehicle number plates and then record information about that plate. They are most commonly used by car parks, government agencies such as the UK’s DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) and DVSA (Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency), and of course the enforcement teams who use them to track behaviour and patterns of travelling criminals.
The use of ANPR in this way has proved to be important in the detection of many offences, including locating stolen and uninsured vehicles, as well as helping to tackle major and organised crime. It also allows officers’ attention to be drawn to offending vehicles whilst allowing law-abiding drivers to go about their business unhindered. With the ever-present threat of terrorism, we now live in a dangerous world. These ANPR cameras can play a vital role in helping track the movements of known suspects which in turn could flag the presence of an active terror cell, for example:
- ANPR provides vital lines of enquiry and evidence in the investigation of crime and is used by Law Enforcement Agencies throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Searches of ANPR data can confirm whether vehicles associated with a known criminal has been in the area at the time of a crime and can dramatically speed up investigations. It’s estimated that around 11,000 ANPR cameras nationally submit around 50 million ANPR ‘read’ records to national ANPR systems daily. ANPR data from each police force is stored together with similar data from other forces for a period of one year.
- ANPR systems are also a common sight on Britain’s motorways. They come highly equipped to deal with congestion, providing detailed real-time information about congestion and traffic flow. This allows traffic-management professionals to execute decisions quickly.
- ANPR cameras provide a detailed, real-time picture of the flow of various routes, allowing local authorities to highlight problem areas that can be improved. They use optical character recognition to convert number plates to digital text, which can then be cross-checked against national police and driver databases. If a certain area is particularly prone to congestion, for example, smart traffic technology highlights this issue to city planners before it becomes a significant enough problem to provoke complaints from the general public. Additionally, it can be used to relay information to the public about average journey times or delays on popular routes.
“ANPR cameras provide a detailed, real-time picture of the flow of various routes, allowing local authorities to highlight problem areas that can be improved”
As Britain’s roads become more and more congested, a new type of technology has emerged that is causing an “evolution” in the UK’s traffic management systems. These are devices that can record both the speed and registration plate of a vehicle in one single compact unit. No longer confined to law enforcement agencies, they boast uncompressed HD video for high-accuracy in order to track mobile objects with precision. Unlike a conventional ANPR system, they can capture the specific vehicles that commit the offence. For example, it can use a single camera to automatically record the number plates of vehicles stopping outside school premises, thereby ensuring the road safety of school children. They are ideal as multiple civil traffic enforcement and traffic management applications can now run simultaneously, without requiring specific equipment for every solution.
This latest generation of cameras are easy to set up, do not require software, and thanks to the high resolution of the camera, they boast impressive accuracy. As well as being able to capture both regular plates, some can even capture challenging plates such as those with half-height and stacked characters.
“This latest generation of cameras are easy to set up, do not require software, and thanks to the high resolution of the camera, they boast impressive accuracy”
Whilst the speed radar typically picks up at 200m, the camera tends to pick up anywhere from 14 to 20m. Therefore, the speed indication device is acting as a warning signal for the driver to slow down. However, if at 20m the driver is still over the speed limit, the camera will then record the registration of the vehicle. Upon successfully capturing a number plate, an image (black and white) and full colour photo of the vehicle is transmitted to the ECC via serial communication. The information includes entry speed, peak speed, exit speed and average speed of the vehicle.
Once the data is received, the current speed from the K-Band Doppler radar is logged and both the ANPR images and vehicle speed is saved into the local database. These latest devices tend to be available as static or mobile and can be operated by mains voltage, battery or solar. In addition, they can be linked to Wi-Fi and an ECC web-based interface. There are also developments underway to make this type of system operate remotely via GSM through a CMS system with user-defined alert notifications.
Each device records a date and time stamp, a computer then works out the average speed, with the ANPR and photographic evidence, allowing a speeding penalty to be issued. Many consider these dual cameras to be more effective in managing speed as they do not capture speed at an individual location, but average out speed between the two camera zones, meaning drivers are obliged to maintain speed limits over much longer distances. However, despite their advanced technology, they are causing concern amongst motorists with their seemingly covert coverage of the UK’s road network and high-tech automated image gathering capabilities.
People are already questioning why ANPR images are being recorded, as well as where they are stored, for how long and how secure they are. Privacy campaigners are also concerned that the widespread use of ANPR technology amounts to the mass surveillance of innocent citizens. Of course, while these concerns will have to be proactively addressed by manufacturers and installers alike in order to protect privacy, there is also a balance to be struck for making our world safe from the threat of terrorism.
We may not be there yet, but technology is always one step ahead of regulations - and it’s no secret that the next stage for ANPR systems is to integrate facial recognition with number-plate recognition. It’s a whole new world.
Kevin Marshall is director of TWM Traffic Controls Ltd, part of The Pilot Group
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